Honorable Discharge

Honorable discharge is the status a military service member receives when he has successfully and wholly completed the obligations excepted of him or her. For example, honorable discharge means that a veteran is relieved from having to participate in any military service obligations in the future, though being discharged from the military is not the same as being retired. On a related note, the type of discharge a veteran receives can significantly impact his ability to receive benefits, or to reenlist in the military in the future. To explore this concept, consider the following honorable discharge definition.

Definition of Honorable Discharge


  1. A formal release given a member of the armed forces at the conclusion of a period of honest and faithful service.



Types of Discharge

Civilians commonly assume that, when a veteran is discharged from military service, this effectively means he is retired. This is not always true. A discharge is more like a separation from military service, and that separation can result from a positive or negative event, and can be voluntary or involuntary. Simply put, a discharge is the process of relieving a veteran from his obligation to continue to serve in the armed forces. A retired veteran, if he holds veteran status, on the other hand, can be called back to active duty, if necessary.

The two most common types of discharge from the military are honorable discharge, and dishonorable discharge. However, there are actually several types of discharge that a veteran can receive, and each can significantly impact the type of benefits the veteran will be eligible for, if any, as well as his ability to reenlist in the future. What follows is a brief description of each of the types of discharge that exist with respect to a veteran’s exit from military service.

Honorable Discharge

When someone leaves the military with an honorable discharge, it means that he did everything that was expected of him. For example, honorable discharge means that the service member had good behavior, and that he fulfilled all the requirements that he agreed to, and that were expected of him when he enlisted in his branch of the military. Someone who leaves the military with an honorable discharge is entitled to all the perks that one can earn from being in the military. For example, honorable discharge gives veterans a better shot at success insofar as receiving VA medical care, the GI Bill, and compensation for disability, if needed.

General Discharge under Honorable Conditions

Another type of discharge that is similar to an honorable discharge is “general discharge, under honorable conditions.” This discharge is assigned when a service member’s performance is agreeable, yet he failed to meet the requirements that he had agreed to and that were expected of him upon his enlistment. Associated with this discharge is some type of non-judicial punishment that is incorporated in an effort to correct military behavior that is unacceptable or the member’s failure to meet military standards.

The reason for this discharge must be provided in writing by the discharging officer. The member must also sign paperwork indicating that he understands the reason for his general discharge under honorable conditions. Certain benefits may not be available to veterans who are discharged under this status, like the GI Bill.

Less than Honorable Discharge

The previous two types of discharge are given to those who leave the military in good standing, or close to good standing. The following types of discharge, however, refer to less-than-honorable discharges. These discharges are assigned to those who do not follow the rules at best, and to those who commit crimes at worst. A brief outline of these discharges is provided below.

Dishonorable Discharge

Dishonorable discharge is, as its name suggests, assigned to those service members who have committed reprehensible or criminal actions, like murder or sexual assault. A court martial decides whether to assign a service member a dishonorable discharge status. According to federal law, if a service member is dishonorably discharged from the military, he is not permitted to own a firearm. Similarly, a service member who is dishonorably discharged may have difficulty finding employment upon his release. He also becomes ineligible for any and all benefits associated with military service.

Other than Honorable Conditions Discharge

The other-than-honorable conditions discharge is the most severe of the military discharges for administrative reasons. This discharge is assigned to those who have been caught violating security protocol or being violent. It is also assigned to those who have been found guilty of adultery in a divorce proceeding, or who have been convicted by a civilian court with a sentence that includes prison time.

These are only a few examples of the kinds of behavior that would receive an other than honorable conditions discharge. Usually, those who receive this discharge are ineligible for benefits, nor can they reenlist in the military except under very rare circumstances.

Bad Conduct Discharge

Another type of discharge is the bad conduct discharge. This status is only given by a court martial in the event that the service member is to be punished for bad conduct. Typically, those who receive this discharge have already spent time in military prison. If a veteran was discharged under this status, then he has essentially forfeited any chance he had at receiving military benefits upon his release.

Officer Discharge

Commissioned officers are the “managers” or leaders of the enlisted. They are responsible for training and guiding their subordinates accordingly. A commissioned officer who engages in wrongdoing cannot receive a bad conduct discharge, nor will he receive a dishonorable discharge. He also will not see a reduction in his rank. If a commissioned officer is discharged by a court martial, then he receives a dismissal notice. This is similar to a dishonorable discharge.

Entry Level Separation

A service member who leaves the military before he has completed a minimum of 180 days of service is entitled to receive what is called an “entry level separation” status. This status is neither positive or negative. However, the member may be deemed ineligible for benefits due to the fact that he may not be officially considered a veteran upon his release. Those who receive an entry level separation status may leave the military due to medical or administrative reasons.

An administrative release is the military’s way of “firing” a service member. This may mean that the branch simply does not have enough evidence of misconduct to punish the service member, but there is reason to believe he is still guilty of wrongdoing. For instance, a commander may elect to “fire” someone who has established a history of misconduct.

Upgrade in Discharge Status

In some cases, a veteran or ex-service member can apply for an upgrade in discharge status. In order to apply for an upgrade in discharge status, he must fill out an Application for Review of Discharge or Dismissal from the Armed Forces of the United States. The form is to be submitted within 15 years of being discharged. However, if more than 15 years have passed since the applicant’s discharge, he must then also request a change to his military records in addition to an upgrade in discharge status. This is a complicated process, and so it is recommended that those who wish to upgrade their status do so with the help of an experienced attorney.

Discharge Status in a Job Interview

It is generally illegal for a potential employer to ask a veteran about the type of discharge he received during a job interview. However, it is okay for an employer to ask if an applicant received an honorable or general discharge during a job interview, if it is necessary to determine whether the applicant qualifies for benefits awarded to veterans. However, just because a veteran may not have received one of these types of discharges, that does not mean he did anything wrong. He may have been discharged for medical or administrative reasons.

Job interviews should instead focus on the applicant’s related experience and qualifications. Examples of questions that are okay to ask an applicant with relation to his military service include:

  • Did he, in fact, serve in the military?
  • How long was his period of service?
  • What was his rank upon his release?
  • What type of training did he receive while in the military?
  • Did he have leadership experience while in the military?
  • What kind of certifications did he earn while in the service?

Other than Honorable Discharge Example Resulting from a Trauma of War

Eric fixed airplanes in the Navy for five years. He earned various medals during his time in the military, and his discharge papers reflected the fact that he was an expert with his firearms. However, all of Eric’s accolades were overshadowed by the fact that, at the bottom of those papers, Eric’s status reads as “Discharged: under other-than-honorable conditions.” The reason? Eric became addicted to the painkillers he was prescribed after he suffered a knee injury, and he incurred a DUI charge as a result.

Not only did the Navy give him the boot, but so did the Department of Veterans Affairs medical center. The receptionist at the medical center told him that, because he had a “bad discharge,” Congress did not recognize him as a veteran. He was then turned away. The only jobs that Eric could find after he received his bad discharge were difficult hard-labor jobs.

When a veteran receives a bad discharge, this means that he is ineligible for VA assistance, veterans’ disability compensation, and the GI Bill. It also puts him in a bad light for job applications, even in the private sector, and he is generally unwelcome at veteran’s service organizations. The VA did, however, give Eric information on how he could appeal his status. The VA can conduct its own independent evaluation of a veteran before rejecting or accepting one who presents papers reflecting a bad discharge, but that is not common.

Other veterans with “bad paper” received their bad discharges for misconduct that resulted from traumas of war, such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or a brain injury, rather than an inability to do their jobs. Such conditions can cause veterans to suffer from severe depression, including violent or suicidal thoughts. Some have mental breakdowns that cause them to lash out as a result of their experiences, which ultimately lands them a bad discharge that can have a permanent impact on their futures. Worst still, a bad discharge makes a veteran ineligible for the VA health care he may otherwise desperately need.

Related Legal Terms and Issues

  • Court Martial – A court established specifically to try members of the armed services who are accused of offenses that are against military law.
  • GI Bill – A benefit designed to help service members and veterans cover the costs associated with pursuing an education.